Answering A Call

Read Isaiah 6:1-8

There are specific events in a person’s life which will always be vivid in the individual’s memory. Those times when asked, “Where were you when…,” you are able to recall the minutiae surrounding the named event. For many of us, September 11, 2001 is one of those dates. When presented with the question, “Where were you when you were told that a plane had crashed into the side of the World Trade Center?,” the array of details come flooding back into a person’s mind. As we face the 20th anniversary of such a horrible day, the image presented on the television of first responders rushing into Tower One and then Tower Two come to mind. Women and men who rush into a place so many were trying to flee from is an act of sacrificial service. Many of those who responded would never be seen alive again as the world watched the two towers collapse.

The passage from Isaiah is the telling of the call of the prophet Isaiah. A spiritual vision is recounted in these verses. Isaiah sees the spiritual beings of the seraphim praising and serving the Lord. Being surrounded by such divine imagery and realizing being in the presence of the Lord, Isaiah confronts his unworthiness. But the Lord sends a seraphim to communicate that the Lord has made Isaiah worthy. Then the call is made for someone to go to be a worker in the world on the Lord’s behalf. Isaiah accepts the call by saying, “Here am I. Send me.”

This vision is one which can be easily applied to countless men and women who have accepted the call into a variety of forms of service. The list includes medical workers, educators, clergy, mission workers, social services providers, military personnel, and of course, first responders like the ones who rushed to the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. The list also includes the passengers on Flight 93 who attempted to regain control of the plane from hijackers heading to Washington, D.C. for another target.

On September 11, 2001 a call was given for someone to respond to the horrific attack on human lives. For some who responded that day, they had answered a previous call which led them to be firefighters, police officers, transit authority workers, and emergency medical technicians. On this particular day, the call was renewed and extended to ordinary citizens. The response was clear and unquestioned, “Here am I. Send me.”

Let us never forget those women and men who responded on that day. Let us seek to honor them by responding as willingly when the call is presented to us. May our admiration and gratitude for those who answered the call bind us once again in service to one another.

Help

Read Isaiah 41:8-13

Life can be difficult and filled with challenges. There are times when one can easily feel like everyone and everything is against you. The thought of another day may invoke fear. A person may sense enemies around each turn. You feel beaten up and without hope.

The people of Israel were feeling this way during their time of exile. They had been removed from their homeland. It seemed they had been attacked from every side. God appeared to have abandoned them. Into this situation, God speaks to the people through the prophet Isaiah. Part of that message is what we have read for today. In this section, God reminds the Israelites that they have been chosen. The people are assured that God has not rejected them. Then God communicates hope and tells them not to fear. The hope is found in the promise that God will provide the strength which they need to endure the difficulties. God will deal with the enemies and those who stand in opposition to them. The promise is that God will be their help.

The promise which Isaiah shares on God’s behalf was not only for the Israelites of that day but for all of God’s children. This is the promise which belongs to each of us. When we are feeling overwhelmed and/or having periods in life as described above, the message Isaiah speaks can bring us assurance and hope. Our God declares that being our help in these situations is God’s intention. By trusting in this promise and turning to God, we can endure because we know God is present to provide us strength. We also know that the situation is not permanent because our helper is offering a time when we no longer have anything to fear. Turn to and trust God because God has promised to be our help, strength and hope of a different future.

The Potter

Read Isaiah 64:8

Take a moment to look at this artwork created by Nicole Smith. As I gazed at this oil painting, the verse from Isaiah came into my mind. This verse acknowledges that God is the one who has created each of us. God’s hands have been on us and our lives since the day we were conceived. It is important to remember that God has not completed the work of molding us. Each day the molding and shaping of us continues and God’s hands remain on us.

We are not perfected pieces YET. There are times when we cave in on a side and need to be reshaped. We can collapse into a lump because of life’s pressures or our weaknesses. God does not give up on us when we appear to be ruined but gently works with us to begin our re-creation. When the world sees us as a useless lump of clay, God sees the masterpiece which we can become.

“You are the potter. I am the clay. Mold me and make me. This is what I pray.” – Change My Heart, Oh God – Eddie Espinosa

Eden Quest

Read Isaiah 11:6-9

Throughout human history, humans have been on a quest for the idyllic way of life. This quest has led us on a search for Nirvana, Shangri la, Eden and many other “paradises” with different names throughout history. There is a vision of a place where all creatures, including humans, live in harmony. The search for a place where there is an ample supply of everything which a person could possibly need. This place is void of strife and grueling labor. As much effort and time has been dedicated to this quest, the claiming of such a place remains elusive from a physical and spiritual standpoint in this temporal world.

In the vision which Isaiah relates, we receive a glimpse of the place which has driven humans on the quest. Isaiah describes a mountain where creatures interact in a harmonious way. The vulnerable do not suffer at the hands of the stronger and/or more lethal. This vision harkens us back to the time before humanity attempted to be in full control. We see how God intended all of creation to exist. This passage also provides assurance that this state of existence will occur again at some point.

Humans, often unknowingly, always strive for what is part of God’s plan. We search for purpose because God intends all to have purpose in the world. We search for a place to belong because God created us to be interwoven into the fabric of creation. Seeking love is our need to experience the love in which we were created by the love we know as God. Living in harmony without strife and labor is how God intended us to experience life so we search for the place where this may be our reality. God promises us that this reality exists where God is and so we strive to be in the full presence of God.

May your quest lead you to find God.

Good News

Read Isaiah 61:1-3

Think about a time when you have been chosen to deliver good news to someone else. The occasion may be the birth of a baby, the engagement of a couple, or the return of someone who has been away for an extended period of time. In my own life I have had the pleasure of delivering such good news many times. Having this opportunity creates excitement and high levels of joyful feelings. These experiences are definitely more enjoyable than being the bearer of bad news.

Isaiah, and all the other prophets of God, were most frequently delivering messages filled with bad news. The passage for today is one of the exceptions to the trend. Isaiah declares that he has been chosen to share some good news with the people, especially the poor, broken hearted, captive, imprisoned and mourners. The news he has to deliver is that their fortunes are changing. No longer are they to suffer and be made low but now they are going to be as mighty as great oaks on full display for the Lord.

As followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to be ones to proclaim good news as well. Each of us have experienced times when God has lifted us from troublesome situations. We have had times when we have been low and have suffered at the hands of others. The Lord provided healing and restoration from these experiences, sometimes through the work and words of others. Sharing these experiences with individuals makes us like those great oaks of which Isaiah speaks. Our anointment to bear good news is found in the words of Jesus, “Therefore go…” (Matthew 28:19). We are to share the news that the Lord has changed our situation in life and will do the same for them at the right point. 

Positive Outcomes

Read Isaiah 48:17-19

As a parent, a person desires the absolute best for all her/his children. Much of the time a child lives in the home, the parent is using opportunities to teach and guide the young person. The hope is that as the child matures, the lessons taught will prepare them to make choices which will benefit them throughout their future. This does not always happen. When a child makes a choice  which results in a lasting negative outcome, the parent is disappointed. This disappointment is not in the child but in the missed opportunities for a more positive outcome. No parent wishes for a child to experience negative outcomes because the love a parent feels is great.

In the reading from Isaiah, we see God as a parent to the Israelites. God has a great love for all of God’s children, greater than even a human parent. Because of this love, God desires only positive outcomes for the Israelites. God has taught and guided them in ways which can bring about positive results. Yet the Israelites have chosen to ignore the teaching and take paths different from those to which God has guided them. In making these choices, the Israelites have experienced a lot of negative outcomes. God’s disappointment in these results is evident in the words recorded here.

This trend continues throughout human history. We have received the ongoing teaching from God through Scripture, trusted Christian leaders and teachers, and from within our own families. God has utilized these individuals in our lives to guide us and give us the tools which will help us achieve positive life outcomes. But like the Israelites to whom Isaiah speaks, we have at times ignored the teachings or rejected the guidance. Making this choice leads us to not receive the full measure of positive life experience. We may have times when we do not suffer greatly from these choices but we still fall short of what could be. Other times we experience great suffering because of the choices. When this happens, God feels disappointment because of what could have been for us.

From this passage we learn to follow the teachings and guidance of God so we can fully experience the greatness God has planned for us.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 8

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Today’s phrase from the Lord’s Prayer which we will look at is a continuation of the petition from yesterday. In this petition, the Lord is seeking from God forgiveness for sin. We know that Jesus is not in need of forgiveness but is providing a model prayer for his disciples who do need forgiveness.

The phrase for today places a caveat on the request for forgiveness. This caveat is “as we forgive our debtors.”

Most often this is interpreted to mean that God should forgive our sin in the same manner which we forgive others. This interpretation creates a problem. The problem is that this would place God in a situation dependent upon our actions and behaviors. God is not dependent upon humans in any way and does not respond as humans respond. Evidence of this is found in places throughout Scripture. In the story of Jonah God is prepared to forgive Nineveh which angers Jonah because he wants Nineveh punished. God shows Jonah that God’s choice to forgive or not to forgive is not linked to Jonah’s choices. (Jonah 3:10-4:11) God also declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”(Isaiah 55:8) Stephen reminds us of God’s independence from human actions when he says, “However, the Most High does not live in houser made by human hands.”(Acts 7:48)

If we do not interpret this phrase to be a link between our actions and God’s actions, we must look at it differently. Jesus appears to be expressing the importance of our forgiveness of others. One possible translation of the Greek word translated here “as” is “because.” The sense maybe that Jesus is telling us our reason for forgiving others is that we have been forgiven by God. This interpretation is supported by other Scripture. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) Luke’s version of this prayer also lends support. “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4).

In including this phrase in the prayer, Jesus calls upon us to remember that by requesting and accepting God’s forgiveness, we are to extend forgiveness to others in gratitude.

Water and Food

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.

Isaiah 55:1-4 (NIV)

Many of us have not experienced what it means to not have food when hungry, or something to drink when thirsty. We may have had short periods of time when we have been unable to access food or drink but it never has become a life-threatening situation. There are people in our communities who have, and do, experience food and drink insecurities. Even today in the United States there are children and adults who are malnourished and facing life-threatening inadequacies. This is true in every nation on earth. For most of us, this situation is so far removed from us that hunger and thirst is only a hypothetical experience. Only if we open our eyes to those who society wishes to hide, or we are confronted by images on the television, are we able to acknowledge such a physical need.

The writer of Isaiah takes hunger and thirst beyond a physical experience to a spiritual one. In our passage today, the prophet speaks on behalf of God. God invites all to come to God to be satisfied. The thirsty will find water that quenches the thirst indefinitely. The hungry will be filled completely. No payment is required for what God offers. God offers all which is necessary for life within an experience of great love.

While the physical hunger and thirst may be a them-not-me experience for us, the spiritual hunger and thirst is often very familiar. We are born with a desire and need to be spiritually fed. When this need is going unmet, we search for spiritual food and drink just as our human bodies instinctively do the same. God created us in a way that both these forms of need and searching are part of who we are as beings. Only God can meet the needs of our spiritual being in a way which is long-lasting and completely satisfying. All others are temporary and eventually unfulfilling.

God extends an ongoing invitation, “Come all you who are thirty…” This is an invitation which Jesus repeats as well.  The invitation is for you.

An Invitation

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:6-9 (NIV)

Imagine receiving an invitation to attend a banquet. This banquet is being hosted by a very important and powerful person. The individual is known to have access to the finest food, wines and drinks known to humanity. You are also aware that the location of the banquet has been described as having unparalleled views, amazing furnishings and ideal weather. You are not required to bring anything or pay any sort of fee to attend. What you wear to the banquet does not matter because a special robe, exactly your size, has been prepared for you to wear once you arrive. Would you even consider turning down the invitation?

The passage which we have read today from Isaiah is part of a song of praise. The song speaks of God’s faithfulness to Israel. God’s protection of Israel from foreign enemies and the destruction of those foreign cities is lifted up. Then the words of the song switch to the telling of the Lord preparing a great banquet for all people. This is where our reading begins. The song moves from speaking about a great feast to God’s work in destroying death and its power over humanity. The Lord will remove the tears and disgrace of all people. The celebration then begins.

You have received an invitation to a banquet. The Lord has invited you to come to a celebration where death, tears and shame no longer exist. You know the host and the host’s abilities. The location has been described throughout Scripture.  There will even be people who you have previously known there. The price of admission has been provided. A special robe to cover all the dirty parts of your life has been made especially for you. Only one thing remains to be done, accepting the invitation. Will you?

No Facade

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Isaiah 58:1-12 (NIV)

If you have ever had the privilege of being behind the set of a stage play, a television show, or a movie, you know that most times what the audience sees is a facade. The intention is to assist the performers in transporting the audience to a specific setting for the scene. These facades can look very real. Today’s use of digital enhancements in television shows and movies make it seem even more real. Some people create facades in their lives to generate an image of their choosing as perceived by others. Maintaining these facades can require a lot of energy and be very time consuming.

In today’s reading, God expresses displeasure with the facade which they people have created. They have presented an image in which they humble themselves and deny themselves for a brief period of time. This is done in an effort to win God’s favor. Yet their other behaviors during and after the set time are not congruent with the self-sacrificing humility which they are attempting to present. The Lord describes the behaviors which are pleasing, caring for others and fighting for the oppressed. God is not fooled because the people’s true nature is found in their non-religious actions.

Sadly, we can be like the people of Israel to whom God speaks in this passage. We can go through the motions as prescribed by our faith traditions but the rest of our actions do not align. The fake notion that by adhering to a spiritual practice or rite will win us favor in God’s eyes is still prevalent in many faith communities.

God reminds us that our spiritual practices are only beneficial if they point us towards a wholeness in our living. If they remind us of the importance of caring for others and working to improve the lives of others, then they have purpose. By following a spiritual practice we may renew our energy to fight injustice and oppression. The way we treat others can be changed through our spiritual practices. This is what the Lord desires. These practices are for us, not the Lord.

As we approach the season of Lent soon, a time to renew or begin spiritual practices, may we not create a facade to please the Lord or others. Instead, may we allow these to change our lives and our behaviors.